July 15, 2015

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Dear friends,

What’s up the price of hamburger? A friend complained recently that she could have served a side of salmon for what it cost to make a meatloaf. Burgers on the grill have become a luxury meal and although steak prices haven’t risen as sharply, they’re no bargain, either.

Well, get used to eating more pork and chicken because beef prices probably won’t fall significantly any time soon. It’s a classic case of supply and demand. U.S. beef herds are at an historic low. Economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say that expanding the herds back to “normal” levels may take the rest of the decade.

The high beef prices were touched off in 2007 by widespread drought that decimated grazing land and caused feed prices to shoot up dramatically. Ranchers began selling off their herds because feeding the animals was too expensive.

The shrinking and expansion of the U.S. beef herd is a process that repeats itself every decade or so due to weather and economic pressures. But this time the contraction was near catastrophic because of the severity of the droughts in almost every cattle-producing state.

The good news is that ranchers are expanding their herds once again, and at a pace that is faster than expected. In January, the USDA reported herds had increased 1.4 percent  — and the important breeding herds 4.1 percent – from the previous year, although the inventory is still the third smallest since 1952.

So have some pork, which is in such abundant supply that prices are expected to continue to fall. I have bought whole pork loins this summer for less than $2 a pound, and I’ve seen bacon on sale at the same price.

The pork producers would love for you to switch to what they’re touting as “the other burger” – seasoned ground pork shaped into a patty and cooked on the grill. I found a recipe for an Italian version on a National Pork Producers Council website  (http://www.porkbeinspired.com) .

If you try the recipe, remember that ground pork is NOT sausage. Like ground beef, ground pork is an unseasoned mixture of fat and meat ground together. If you don’t see it in the meat case of your local supermarket, ask for it.

Along with the burger recipe, I’m including a recipe I developed recently for a couscous picnic salad. Enjoy.

DSCN1469

THE OTHER BURGER, ITALIAN STYLE
•    1 lb. ground pork
•    1 tsp. ground black pepper
•    1/4 tsp. salt
•    1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press
•    (or very finely minced)
•    1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
•    2 tsp. red wine
•    2 tsp. olive oil
Gently mix together ground pork and remaining ingredients. Shape into 4 burgers about 3/4-inch thick. Place on grill over moderate-hot coals, lower hood and grill for 5 minutes; turn and finish grilling 4 to minutes longer, until an instant read thermometer reads 160 degrees. Serve on sandwich buns if desired.

Serves 4.

MEDITERRANEAN COUSCOUS SALADRIED CHICKEN AND ASSEMBLY:

•    3/4 cup uncooked pearl (Israeli) couscous
•    3/4 cup water
•    Salt
•    1/4 cup olive oil
•    1 salt- or oil-cured anchovy filet
•    2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    2 tbsp. sliced Kalamata olives
•    3 tbsp. finely diced mozzarella cheese
•    1 tbsp. finely diced dates
•    1/4 cup finely diced cucumber
•    1 tbsp. finely chopped basil
•    1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
TIDBITS

Thank you, David Lebovitz. Finally, a kindred soul who deplores the current restaurant trend of plating food with a streak of sauce, a few cubes of vegetables and two or three teensy slices of meat. (I’ve always thought the streak of sauce resembles the mark a dog makes when it scoots.)

Here’s how he describes the plating trend in his latest blog post: “…a smear of root vegetable puree down the center of the plate, with herb leaves, flowers, a dice of vegetables, and three pieces of meat.”

Lebovitz continues, “I just want good food, prepared and served by competent people who take pride in what they’re doing, whether it’s a falafel sandwich, a roasted chicken, or a fancy, three-star dinner.”

I agree.
I goofed

My brain was still on vacation last week after I returned from New York City and wrote my newsletter. Julia Child’s seminal work is, of course, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” not the “Theory and Practice of…” as I wrote in The Mailbag.  “Theory and Practice…” is James Beard.

The second mistake was somehow tacking  part of the previous week’s recipe name onto last week’s recipe name. If you saved the fried chicken sandwich recipe, please delete the steak with arugula reference.

I’ll try to do better in the future, but I’m not making any promises. I need an editor.

MAILBAG

From Bill Bowen:
(Regarding the reader who wanted cold dish ideas for a Julia Child dinner): I’d suggest serving ratatouille cold. But the “Julia & Company” cookbooks are good sources. Also her chicken mayonnaise or macedoine of fruit are good choices.

Dear Bill: Thanks for the ideas. I enjoy hearing Julia Child recipe suggestions because usually they include at least one recipe of hers I haven’t tried. I’ve seen the macedoine of fruit recipe but haven’t prepared it. Now I will.
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